What's so scary about tea partiers?
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Bill Barth
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They don't like what they see
Punish conduct, not thought
Emotion. The enemy of reason
What's so scary about tea partiers?
Celebrate being alive
Yes. Be careful
Lessons to learn from conflict
No longer needed?
Why Americans are angry
 OK, I understand that Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” doesn’t make a living by being reasonable, understanding and nuanced in his views and observations.
        He gets paid to be provocative, argumentative, loud, and, with some regularity, obnoxious. Is there anyone on television who more routinely interrupts and berates his guests and interviewees?
        Well. Maybe O’Reilly.
        But, back to Matthews, and the topic of the day, which is, the TV host’s quivering obsession with what he clearly believes are the evils and excesses of the so-called Tea Party. Mathews has produced a documentary which essentially suggests the Tea Party folks are dangerous and, often, deranged subversives who may well pose a threat to America and its government. He allows virtually no distinction between suburban moms at Tea Party rallies and gun-toting militias sneaking around the woods. It appears Mathews believes Tea Party supporters are scarcely better than al-Qaida terrorists.
Let’s try to cut through some of that hysteria. I have a few theories and thoughts.
First, there really is no such thing as the Tea Party and it has no members. It’s really a rallying cry based around the concept of the historic Boston Tea Party, when a handful of citizens of that rebellious community came together and acted in defiance of what some perceived as British tyranny.
        This modern Tea Party — for now, at least — does not have a column on the state ballots, or a slate of candidates to compete with the established political parties. It’s not that organized. And many of its proponents do not want it to be that organized. They fear being folded into, for example, the conservative party and then merely used to promote the Republican agenda. They have shown a disdain for leaders, a preference for disorganization, and a distrust of anything institutional.
        If that view prevails, long-term, the Tea Party movement will die by its own hand. To make a difference, organization is crucial. To create change, an agenda with common goals is required. To compete in the marketplace of political ideas, leadership is indispensable.
        So what do people like Mathews find so alarming?
        I think it’s this: Dating back, really, to the days of FDR, the progressive view of government’s place in American society has been ascendant. The liberal party controlled Congress without interruption for more than four decades. Now and then the conservative party installed one of its own in the White House — think: Ronald Reagan — but the trend charting government growth barely changed. Year after year, decade after decade, under administration after administration, government always swelled in ways making it both more expansive and more expensive.
        On the few occasions when Republicans briefly controlled one or both houses of Congress, the so-called conservative party turned out not to be very conservative. Spending always went up. Government always expanded its reach.
        I think what frightens progressives like Mathews is that the Tea Party falls outside the control of either political establishment. It represents a significant portion of the population which feels the Republicrats and the Demopublicans fail the common folks and care only about achieving and keeping power. There’s a fear the tea partiers might really mean what they say.
        Maybe they really do object to the size and scope of government. Maybe they really do reject tinkering around the edges, and want to actually dismantle some of the layers of government. Maybe they mean it when they argue that America ought to return to its roots of self-reliance and limited government.
        For most of the last century the philosophical trajectory of American public life has been “there oughta be a law.” Politicians of both national parties have continued the march toward government occupying the central role in all things American. The debate has been about over details, not direction.
        The libertarian view — really, that’s what the Tea Party is all about — steers a closer course to the Founders’ concepts and the Constitution, as originally written. Government is neither central nor sovereign. It is subservient to the people, with whom real authority rests.
        So it’s not hard to see why Mathews and fellow progressives feel their worldview threatened by the Tea Party movement. The libertarian view undermines everything they hold true.
        Likewise, one can readily see why Republicans embrace the Tea Party with all the comfort of hugging a cactus. A professional politician who calls himself a conservative is still a professional politician, threatened by those whose heartfelt desire is to see political empires diminished.
        Politicians from all sides and their groupies like Mathews brought this on themselves, with their self-aggrandizement and empire-building.
        The tea partiers may have staying power. They may make history. Or not.
But I think those one-time rebels and radicals — Jefferson, Adams, Hancock, et al — would have a different view of these modern-day troublemakers than Mathews does.